Antarctica Marathon

I told myself that the only way I could take the Monday after my trip off was if I did the write-up that I wish existed for me before I embarked on this trip.

This fulfills that promise.

The best way to break it down is to go through the typical stages of a race as I know them to be, so here goes my best attempt.

Entry

This is put on by Marathon Tours and Travel (MTT), a group that otherwise specializes in guaranteed entry and group traveling to races organized by others (think the New York Marathon, Great Wall Marathon, etc.). We had never traveled with them before and only came across this as an option for going to Antarctica.

Their website has a lot of information about the Antarctica Marathon, so if it seems like I skip a lot of details, that’s only because you can find quite a bit there.

We’re planners, so we weren’t interested in waitlisting at all, which meant we had to put a deposit down in 2015 to secure our place in this year’s event (yep, three years in advance). We started setting aside a few hundred dollars every month almost immediately to be able to make the deposit deadlines in 2017.

One thing to especially keep in mind before booking something so far in advance is really thinking about who else is going with you. Are you still going to be friends with this person in three years? Are you confident enough in this romantic relationship that it will still be going strong in three years?

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We did not have this problem ourselves, but we did see it played out for some on our trip. Frankly, we were both so stubborn about going that I think the trip kept our friendship together during some tumultuous times in the three years leading up to it.

Training

I was extremely concerned about the weather given that I live in the SF Bay Area where the temperature range is between 50 – 70 ℉ for most of the year. Conrad was getting far “better” weather training in NYC, as were most of the other travelers given that many hail from the colder regions (or at least regions that actually get “cold” during winter).

Forget the weather. It hardly matters.

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Seriously.

This can be hard to believe given where you are going – especially since every time this race comes up in conversation people will ask you what on earth you will wear. Don’t worry, we’ll get to clothing.

We were advised by MTT to do as much of our training as possible on trails and hills. This, my friends, is the most important thing you can do to get through this race.

I was fortunate enough to have a hilly park across the street from my office. By “hilly,” I mean there was an elevation difference of 70 feet between the lowest and highest points on my training runs. Traversing up and down a variety of the hills throughout every training run gave me several hundred feet of gain/loss for most runs.

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Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, CA – awesome for hill training…and sunrises

If you don’t have hills near you, have no fear. There’s plenty of strength training workouts you can do at the gym to help. Get to Googling.

If you hate the gym as much as I do, you can still get some training in just by brushing your teeth. I did a wall sit every time I brushed my teeth. It took me weeks to work up to a full two minutes, but once I got there, I never skipped a toothbrush wall sit in fear I would atrophy. I first attempted this years ago when I wanted to hate hiking up hills less. It made a huge difference given how little a time commitment it is. I did a separate post on it a while back here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to also train with whatever nutrition you want to use. You can’t take wrappers ashore, so we opted for Clif Shot Bloks, which we stored in a collapsible water bottle at a water drop spot on the course.  I ate 3 at roughly every hour mark.

 

Gear

In the Fall, before your race, they will open up a gear store to buy “Antarctica Marathon” merchandise. You’ll get a long sleeve tech shirt in the weeks before you leave for Argentina, but this is more cold-weather gear as well as plain old “I want a running _______ with ‘Antarctica Marathon’ stamped on it” stuff.

I forgot about it before the deadline to order, although I lucked out when they had a limited amount available to purchase (cash only) just before the welcome dinner in Buenos Aires.

I already owned nearly everything to be able to manage, but the things I got mostly just came from REI.

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I slept with wine bottles next to my mattress for good luck. Also to keep them from rolling about all night.

Working from the feet up, let’s group this together…

 

Feet

Despite what this picture shows, I only wore the pink/gray socks, which are Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro Socks. I packed the others in the shore bag as a “just in case.”

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I completely forgot to include my shoes in the photo, which I chose by going to my local Fleet Feet and saying “hey I’m running this marathon in Antarctica, and I’ve never run a trail race before…help”. I recommend you do and say (where applicable) the same. MTT suggested waterproof shoes, which mine were not. Trail running friends, as well as the store folks, suggested that I stay away from those since your feet can get really hot. I was happy with my decision.

You don’t need any Yak Trax for your shoes. Yes, I’m sure.

Legs

KT Tape around my right knee FTW.

Underarmour compression shorts were my first layer. Actually, they’re super short, so I really think of them more like underwear as I would never walk out in public with them.

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I was going to wear these warm tights I already owned, but they had the “Antarctica Marathon” ones available in Buenos Aires in my size, which I took as a sign and grabbed these.

The tights claimed to fight the wind, but I decided to wear a pair of rain pants over just in case and take them off if I got warm. I didn’t get warm enough to ditch them (although my legs get pretty hot typically), but my legs never felt cold either, so I’m confident I could have gone without the rain pants, but they were mighty lovely when it snowed from time to time through the race.

Hips

I hate pinning race bibs to my clothes, so I always use the pink number-holder-thing-that-I-never-remember-the-name-of.

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I carried my phone (for photos as well as downloaded music) in a Flip Belt. I prefer this because the arm things rub and also make me feel a bit off kilter over time.

Torso

Brooks Epiphany Sports Bra II, which ended up rubbing my chest raw because the ship laundry service put it in the dryer. I wrongfully presumed that they would follow the label instructions. Another runner specified not to do this to her clothes on her ticket, and they still did, so keep that in mind if you want to have your clothes laundered on the ship (it’s only $1-2 per item and worth it to pack less).

Long sleeve tech shirt from the NYC marathon, although I did consider a short sleeve.

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T Base Layer Top as recommended by a friend. It was great at keeping me a breathable warm.

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Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated Jacket also as recommended by the same great friend. I ended up unzipping it most of the way after the first lap, but never wanted to part with it entirely or even relegate it to being tied around the hips.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket – I got this as a gift a few years ago, and it’s fantastic. It folds into its own pocket and is great to help break the wind, which is very important for this race. If there’s anything from this list that you should already own, it’s this. Great for travel as well as running outside of the Antarctic. This combined with the insulated jacket really kept me from needing to buy an expensive goretex jacket that I would only wear this once.

Hands

The North Face E-Tip Gloves – borrowed from the boyfriend

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The second pair of sweater-looking gloves were borrowed from Conrad to wear over the other pair. I thought I would end up ditching them. I didn’t.

Head

Neck Gaiter. This was not a specialized neck gaiter. Not for running or even hiking. I own and also brought a Buff that we use hiking, but I was dying for something fun and figured this Christmas gift from a co-worker was just the ticket.

Saucony headband with ear covering. I was worried this wouldn’t keep warmth in all that well since I had only worn it on warmer runs, but it was great.

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Smartwool NTS Merino 150 Beanie – This was a godsend. I couldn’t seem to find something that would keep my head warm without overheating (at most I run with a bandana on my head, and I was already worried about running with the headband above). I randomly came across this during an REI trip and am so happy for it.

Goodr Sunglasses – I can’t own nice sunglasses because I lose them. These were a comfortable $25 and worth it to have polarized lenses. We had some pretty high winds at one point, but they weren’t enough to justify wearing ski goggles. I’m super happy with getting these, especially since I went with a fun lens color: it made spotting me much easier in pictures since everything else on my outer layers was a dark color.

Nutrition

Water Bottles – I just grabbed one of the free plastic water bottles my boyfriend got from his work and one of my cycling water bottles because that’s what was on the counter when I packed. You don’t need special bottles. The top of the plastic one did freeze over a bit because that was the one that had just water in it and I forgot to pick it up and get a sip when I came back to the start/finish from my first lap. As long as you move the bottles on each lap, you should be fine.

We did get thirstier than I expected, but Conrad and I agreed to just share water. He runs much faster than me, so he just left his out there for me to bring in when I finished. This meant he drank less than me and that I had extra water since I took longer. I highly recommend sharing nutrition/water like this. He had three bottles in total, and we each left a bottle with our electrolyte drink in it out at the water drop point (which is halfway out to the turn around).

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Electrolytes – I used a Nuun tablet in one of my bottles just because I always use them when hiking. They’re sugar-free if that matters to you. Berry is my favorite.

Clif Shot Bloks – Again, you can’t take wrappers on the course, so unless you want to squeeze GU into a bottle, I would recommend these. We combined our blocks into a single collapsable bottle that we left at the water drop point.

Tracking

My Garmin Forerunner 910xt had reception. Unfortunately, this device is known for getting its barometric altimeter (which reads your elevation) clogged with dirt, salt from your sweat or the pool, and whatever else you put it through. I gave up on trying to clean it out forever ago and just “correct” the elevation whenever I sync it to Garmin Connect.

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It came to my attention a couple hours ago that the elevation data is not available for King George Island (where the race was run), so they cannot “correct” my elevation. I’m pretty distraught about this and am kicking myself for not ponying up the money and just buying a new one before I went.

Carrying it all

It wasn’t super clear to me how we were going to get this stuff to shore, so I ended up buying a small backpack. This wasn’t necessary as the ship supplies you with a dry bag to use whenever you go ashore.

Travel to the Race Course

You’ll provide your own travel to Buenos Aires, but MTT has it from there. Be prepared to enjoy a lovely few days in Buenos Aires (bring a swimsuit!).

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Bring a swim suit or else you, too, will have to go to the pool in a sports bra and Under Armour shorts.

Next up is the flight south to Ushuaia. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize how big South America really is: it’s a four-hour flight from Buenos Aires to the southernmost city, Ushuaia.

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The weather can be tumultuous there, especially given that you just left sunny Buenos Aires. You’ll have a few hours to roam about Ushuaia (we enjoyed the National Park there), and you can pick up some bottles of booze if you like. The prices on board are on par with those on land so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want a particular bottle of wine.

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Post office at the end of the world, which is inside of the national park.

This is also an excellent time to put on a motion sickness patch if you opted to get the prescription from your doctor, but be warned that this is a potent tool. It gave me symptoms of a cold (itchy dry throat, groggy, and blurry vision close up, so I couldn’t really read or write very well), but those were at their worst just for the first evening. I woke up the next morning feeling mostly okay, although my vision was still blurry. I didn’t expect it to make me feel that way, so I ended up going to the ship doctor worried that I was getting sick the first evening. These side effects are worth it given the alternative, though.

Once aboard your ship (either the Ioffe or the Vavilov, which you can see more about on the One Ocean site), it will be another few days until race day. You’ll get comfortable with the ship as well as have a chance to go ashore once or twice, which will make you much more comfortable about having to get in a zodiac instead of some tour bus to get you to the start line.

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Part of the “going ashore” process involves bio securing your shoes and pants. One of your days at sea will have some time set aside to scrub the bottom and sides of your running shoes as well as vacuum the inside to remove any debris. This helps to keep outside species from entering Antarctica.

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Another portion of one of these days at sea will involve a bottle decorating party that will help your bottle to stand out in the pile of water bottles on race day. It’s also a mechanism for shaming in case you forgot to bring your water bottle back in from the course. 🙂

Race Eve

The night before everyone meets for a race briefing in the lounge of the ship. We were on the second boat, so this included some information on how the first race went and what to expect on the course.

Weather predictions encouraged the race team to move up the start of our race by about 2 hours as a storm was predicted in the afternoon. This ended up being the wise thing to do as it ensured that we were all able to finish. Otherwise, they would have had to cut the race short, and I would have been one of those who would have been a “DNF” (“Did Not Finish”).

Before the briefing, everyone checked in to get their bib and their tracking device.

It’s worth noting that if you decided you wanted to drop down to the half marathon, you have to make that decision before going out a lap beyond the half marathon lap count.

The full marathon was 6 laps, making the half 3 of them. If I completed 4 laps and decided I was done, I cannot drop to the half at that point. I have to choose to fall into the half after completing 3 laps and without going across the tracker again to go out again.

It makes sense I guess, but I had counted on being able to drop to the half whenever I wanted through the race, so this was a surprise.

Race Day

Pre Race

Breakfast starts two hours before the race. A wake-up call is given over the intercom system 30 minutes before breakfast every morning. For the life of me, I can’t remember breakfast. I may not have gone.

Gangway starts an hour before the race start. This means you can get into the mudroom to put on the outerwear that you always wear on the zodiacs and then in line to go down the gangway to get in the boats at this time.

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I wore all my race clothes under the outwear the ship gives you for the shore excursions. Well, except my shoes because you wear boots in the zodiacs as you always get out of them and step in water to get ashore. The dry bag held my shoes, water bottles (filled on the ship), and a warmer pair of socks to wear back on the zodiac that I never ended up switching into.

We timed walking on the gangway so that we were on the last zodiac out there. This kept us from waiting in the cold for long, but we did end up feeling rushed since the race staff was anxious to start on account of the predicted storm. If I were to do it again, I think the second-to-last zodiac would have been better. 🙂

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Once ashore, we packed the outerwear into our dry bags and exchanged our boots for our running shoes. The boots and dry bags stayed on a tarp they had laid out. Benches were out there to help us manage the shoe exchange.

We took our water bottles to a separate area of the start/finish area and dropped them right on the ground. Many people kept one on their person to carry to the water drop. I ended up taking mine on the second lap.

The Race

The race started quickly, and we were off.

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I had the honor of running nearly the entire marathon with the ship’s pastry chef, Lizzy, who had never run a race before (not even a 5k!). She was terrific company, and I genuinely believe that, other than the hill training (which kept a lot of misery at bay), she was the primary reason I had all the fun I did. This was the first time I ran without headphones (I brought them with me, but just never took them out to use).

My strategy was to try not to walk the hills for the first three laps. I almost made it 4 laps, but we both started having knee pain, so, yeah.

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This, friends, is the Antarctica Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill

Going out was relatively easy because we had a lovely tailwind carrying us. That same wind, head on, had me questioning whether I could finish at all when we came back.

There were some points during the race where the wind picked up entirely and we got a good bit of snowfall as well, but, honestly, a lot of the race was a blur.

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Looking towards the turnaround point, which is at the Chinese base

It went by pretty quickly since I wasn’t worried about counting miles, just counting laps. We were also pretty confident after the first couple laps since we were clearing them with enough time to really give some extra padding for the second half of the race.

I made a habit of taking a sip of water every time we came into the start/finish area as well as a sip of electrolytes every time we passed the water drop. On the way out the water drop was part way up the highest hill, so I also grabbed a couple of Shot Bloks to eat as I power walked up the hill. I switched to running as soon as I finished eating them. This really served me well and kept me from bonking.

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You can barely see our ship, the Vavilov, in the distant water beyond the Chilean base buildings

I promised myself a “photo lap” to take pictures as I pleased when I hit the turn around point on my last lap. Because of the pending storm coming in, I was kindly encouraged to try to stop less about half-way in from that point, but I had the bulk of pictures I wanted, and I was just so frickin’ happy I was actually going to finish. I didn’t want to keep the staff waiting any longer than I needed to since they were really trying to allow us all to finish.

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We crossed that finish line and immediately felt into a hug frenzy. I couldn’t imagine how excited Lizzy must have felt finishing her first race. A week and a half later, I still can’t.

Post Race

The One Ocean staff was incredible as they helped us get into the outerwear and even slid our boots on for us (Tammie, you’re amazing). They’re very mindful of hypothermia (it happens every year it seems), so they don’t want anyone waiting around the finish line given how quickly it can set in. It was amazing to see the work they all put into helping the MTT staff put this event on from the other end of breaking it all down.

The storm really picked up and made for quite a ride going back to the ship. There were two behind us (a brother and sister), and we made up the last “runner” zodiac to go.

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I have to admit I teared up when the zodiac approached the gangway to cheers from our friends who were already boozing up on the lounge deck. It was still so surreal that we made it.

At the top of the gangway, Geoff happily marked me off as “returned” and let me know my friends had been anxiously checking on me. Typically you’re allowed to go back ashore once you’ve come back and showered, but the storm prevented the staff from letting anyone else go back.

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We celebrated with a “polar plunge” in the plunge pool (a deep pool that is filled with the cold ocean water), which was quickly followed by hopping in the hot tub. I highly recommend the plunge pool after as it is incredible for sore legs.
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If you want a “real” polar plunge, don’t worry, the first excursion the next day includes the chance to walk into the ocean from the shore.

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PostScript

If this giant write-up isn’t enough to alleviate any anxiety you may have, please feel free to comment below with any other questions.

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If it helps at all, the rest of the trip offers so much amazement that it really overshadows the race entirely. No one is talking about the race the day after the race onward.

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